Top tips for small gardens:how to add a splash of vibrant colour to your city patch

Celebrate summer with a vibrant and scented palette for your containers.

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There’s no need to have the artistry of Monet for your containers to sizzle with colour and pizzazz this summer. Instead of fretting about creating a composition from several different plants, simply follow the one pot, one plant rule.

Keep to a tight, cohesive colour scheme throughout, bank up the flowers with plenty of foliage and you’ll have as much fun creating your container displays as you will have enjoying them.

Geraniums convey the breezy atmosphere of the Med, but there are other more imaginative ways to go than the common-or-garden scarlet pelargonium. The peltatum varieties have rather daintier flower sprays that are equally generous in their blooming, and have a trailing habit that looks drop-dead elegant in window boxes and deep containers.

Their attractive, ivy-shaped leaves provide a full supporting cast and the long, curving stems are quite brittle so can be easily snapped off when the flower heads fade. Best of all, you can find them in the most sumptuous shades of deep glowing pinks, velvety crimsons and deepest claret.

Good mixer: Verbena Homestead Purple works beautifully with Verbena Burgundy in a large pale terracotta pot (Marianne Majerus)

The scented-leaved pelargoniums are often relegated to windowsills and conservatories but in summer, their clouds of furry, grey-green scented foliage and small but abundant flowers in the softest pinks and white look enchanting solo in a handsome terracotta pot.

You might plant up pots that look fresh as a daisy, right through summer. My last year’s triumph was Argyranthemum Cherry Red, a delicious daisy with a perky colour that ranges on the same plant from a vibrant cerise to a soft pink, depending on the stage of each flower. Keep cutting the faded stems of Cherry Red and it will keep on pumping out flowers for months.

​Osteospermum Serenity Bronze is my other hot favourite. The shimmery bronze petals around a burnt crimson eye are as unusual as they are captivating, and terracotta pots show them off to perfection. Both these daisies need no accompaniment to flatter them further, but they look fabulous contrasted with similar-sized pots of trailing verbena Homestead Purple. 

Lantana camara is another great solo performer. It has brittle, twiggy stems, fuzzy foliage that can irritate the skin and the plant is not always the most elegant in its growth, but the flower sprays of raspberry pink and tangerine — or in paler versions, creamy lemon and sorbet pink — make up for these small failings. If you want to see bees and butterflies on your patio or in your window boxes, Lantana’s flowers will deliver.


Who’d want sticky-to-handle, floppy petunias when there are calibrachoas to be had, in gorgeous bright oranges, sweet sugar pinks or the dark and juicy Black Cherry? Aptly dubbed Million Bells, calibrachoas are like tiny petunias, and in a sunny spot the flowers will smother the whole plant. You can deadhead with nail scissors and a deal of patience if you want to keep the plant compact, but the faded flowers readily drop, so there is no need to remove them in order for more to appear. In a hanging basket, they look the business.

As in the border, shades of green provide the connecting link between different flower colours as well as providing visual pauses when you have lots of pots grouped together. Gold-splashed euonymus makes a brighter choice than ubiquitous and disease-prone box.

Check out the herb section of the garden centre or nursery for diverse thymes and oreganos that have interesting leaves, dainty, pretty flowers, add fragrance and are clippable for the kitchen. Purple sage, narrow-leaved grey-green sage — Salvia lavandulifolia — is a great choice, and so is apple-green applemint. Rosemary, upright or trailing, is an essential that adds texture and fragrance to any container collection.

What we want from summer containers is abundance, and you don’t need exotics or rare specimens to fit the bill. Cast a fresh eye over a bushy fuchsia and, a few weeks on from planting it up, you could fall in love with the never-ending cascade of exquisite bi-coloured bell flowers.

Get over the snobbery about justly called non-stop begonias and wonder how you managed without the exuberant petal power from one corm, buried in compost right now.

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